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Whitt Patrick Pond "Whitt" RSS Feed (Cambridge, MA United States)

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The Boxtrolls
The Boxtrolls
DVD ~ Simon Pegg
Price: $17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charles Dickens meets Charles Addams with a good dose of steampunk thrown in for good measure, September 26, 2014
This review is from: The Boxtrolls (DVD)
The Boxtrolls is something of a mixed bag, one of those films you're either going to love or be somewhat annoyed by. Coming from the same animation studio - Laika Entertainment - that did The Corpse Bride, Coraline and ParaNorman, your expectations should depend largely on whether or not you liked those films. As someone who loved Coraline, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I like The Boxtrolls quite a bit. Fans of the novel on which the film is based - Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow - should be advised that substantial changes in the story were made for the movie.

The film opens in the visually stunning town of Cheesebridge, a pseudo-Victorian community that looks like the brainchild of a collaboration between Charles Dickens and Charles Addams with a good dose of steam-punk added in for good measure. The upper class of Cheesebridge are distinguished by their conspicuous white stove-pipe hats and their even more conspicuous consumption of all things cheese, things that the lower class can only look upon and aspire to. But there is also an underclass of Cheesebridge, one that lives literally under the town, a race of grotesque-looking and highly inventive but harmless beings called boxtrolls, so-named because of their nature of picking boxes left out by the humans to wear and live in much in the same way hermit crabs pick the shells of other creatures to live in. And like hermit crabs which, when startled, quickly disappear into their shells, boxtrolls just as quickly disappear into their boxes to avoid being seen by humans.

The humans and the boxtrolls have a fairly quiet co-existence for the most part, the humans keeping to the surface and the boxtrolls staying below until nightfall when they come up and roam furtively about the streets, looking for cast-off things to use as parts for their mix-n-match creations. Until one night when a human toddler is seemingly abducted by boxtrolls, sending the humans into a fearful panic such that boxtrolls are no longer regarded as odd folk tales but as dangerous realities. In response to the outcry, the mayor of Cheesebridge, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) commissions social-climbing Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to rid the town of boxtrolls by any means necessary, in return for which the desperately ambitious Snatcher will be granted his own white hat and entry into upper-class society. A rather questionable prize given that Snatcher has a rather nasty case of lactose intolerance and breaks out in distressingly gross ways at even the tiniest bite of cheese.

The boy at the heart of the panic is actually lovingly adopted by the boxtrolls and raised by them, who call him Eggs after the box he is put in and grows up, which is in fact how all of the boxtrolls get their names. But now living below the surface, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) grows up thinking that he's a boxtroll, joining them as he gets older into their nightly forays into the world above. Forays that are growing ever more dangerous as the relentless Snatcher and his nasty (if frequently incompetent) henchmen - Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan) - whittle down the boxtrolls' numbers with all manner of devious traps and devices.

There's more than a bit of Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli of The Jungle Book at the heart of The Boxtrolls, and much of the fun comes from watching as Eggs grapples with the fact that he might not be a boxtroll, much to his distress, and from watching him try to fit in as a human, knowing absolutely nothing about human culture. Which all starts when a girl named Winnie (Elle Fanning) inadvertently falls (almost literally) into the world below the town. Complicating matters further, she's the mayor's neglected daughter who's desperate in her own way for her father's attention. What ensues is Eggs coming to terms with who he is, and what he must become if he's to save his adopted community and the only family he knows.

The voice talent behind the characters is excellent, and a surprising number of well-known voice actors show up in supporting roles, including Maurice LaMarche, James Urbaniak, Cree Summer and Laraine Newman among them. The music, which adds nicely to the feel of the film, was done by Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina, V for Vendetta, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice).

If The Boxtrolls comes up short or uneven in some areas, the reasons can arguably be found in the creative team at the helm, which while having obvious talent and a reasonable background in animation and story-telling, are rather less than stellar when it comes to actually heading up a film. Anthony Stacchi's only previous experience as a director was as co-director on the so-so animated film Open Season (2006), while co-director Graham Annable's experience as a director was limited to some Bone and CSI video games (2005-2006). On the screen-writing end, Irena Brignull's only real experience was on the made-for-TV movie Skellig: The Owl Man (2009). Co-writer Adam Pava has the most to recommend him, having worked as a writer on several successful kids' TV shows like Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Out of Jimmy's Head and My Gym Partner's A Monkey, but this is his first attempt at doing screen-writing for a feature film. Having a surer, more experienced hand at the helm might've upped the overall quality a notch or two. But all that said, The Boxtrolls is still a lot of fun and impressive in its stop-action animation and the levels of detail involved.

Highly recommended if you love quirky, off-beat stories and affectionately grotesque animation and characters.

Begin Again
Begin Again
DVD ~ Keira Knightly
Price: $19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelously done film about people, creativity, inspiration and music, September 19, 2014
This review is from: Begin Again (DVD)
Written and directed by John Carney (Once), Begin Again is one of those films that gradually engages you, drawing you in to the lives of its characters and giving you a taste of how wonderful things come to be, and then stays with you long after the story is done. It works on two distinct levels, the first being how the characters are at once ordinary people but people capable of doing extraordinary things, and the second being how it deals with the very nature of creativity and inspiration. And like Carney's earlier film Once - a really great little film if you haven't seen it already - Begin Again is all about the music, and how a chance meeting between two strangers can lead to something neither would've produced on their own.

Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a burned-out record label executive in New York City. The film begins with him out on a bender when, in a small East Village club, he encounters a songwriter named Gretta (Keira Knightley) whose music stirs something him, something he hasn't felt in years. He immediately approaches her, offering to sign her to his company's label. But Gretta, already not in a receptive frame of mind (for reasons we find out later), dismisses him as a typical big-talking drunk and turns him down, thinking it's all done with when he walks away. However, when she leaves the bar, Dan is waiting outside for her and in spite of her resistance persuades her to join him for a drink so that he can show her that he's for real.

The next sequence takes us through flashbacks where we find out why Dan was out getting drunk that night and why Gretta is in such an edgy frame of mind. Everything in Dan's life is in a downward spiral. He's just been fired from his record company - a company he helped found - by his partner Saul (Mos Def) - because of his indifferent attitude and the fact that he hasn't signed a single new artist in over seven years. His family life is in no better shape. He's estranged from his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener) and can't seem to connect with his teenaged daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Gretta, for her part, has just broken up with her long-time boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave (Adam Levine). Gretta had followed Dave to New York from London when an opportunity for him came up, thinking that they were partners in all ways, but as Dave's success begins to rise, she finds herself being relegated to things like getting coffee. The last straw comes when she finds out that he's had an affair with one of his new producers while on a business trip to Los Angeles. She immediately leaves, crashing temporarily with an old friend from London named Steve (James Corden) who now lives in New York and who is the one who persuaded her to go out and to play at the club that night. Her intent is to leave New York and return to London, but Dan manages to persuade her to at least think about his offer.

The road ahead though takes an immediate detour as the meeting Dan sets up for Gretta with his partner Saul goes nowhere. Dan, however, is undeterred, and unwilling to let go of the feeling that Gretta has something special in her music. Using his knowledge of the business and a few connections he still has good relations with, the most significant of which is a successful hip-hop artist named Troublegum (CeeLo Green), who remembers Dan from when he was fully engaged by what he was doing and can see that Gretta has something that has brought the old spark back to life.

This is the point at which Begin Again really starts to shine. There is an infectious joy the comes from watching people doing what they love and loving what they do, and it spreads as the film progresses, drawing in the most unexpected people under the oddest circumstances, the creativity going on inspiring others to add something of their own, which in turn spurs yet more creativity. It is really fun to simply watch and listen as Dan and Gretta and their cohorts produce their album on locations all through New York City, making the natural sounds of the city part of what they're trying for.

The songs were written for the movie by Gregg Alexander as principal songwriter in collaboration with a number of other songwriters including Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Nick Southwood and Rick Nowels. The film needed a unique and compelling sound and this team, along with the supporting musicians and sound technicians, managed to deliver wonderfully.

Highly, highly recommended.

Lazarus Volume 2 TP
Lazarus Volume 2 TP
by Greg Rucka
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.48
50 used & new from $6.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeper into the workings of Rucka & Larks grimly engaging near-future dystopia, September 17, 2014
This review is from: Lazarus Volume 2 TP (Paperback)
Lazarus Volume 2: Lift takes us deeper into the nitty gritty of Rucka & Lark's near-future dystopia that was introduced in Volume 1. The story in this arc actually consists of three story lines. The first is a series of flashbacks to Forever's childhood where we see her as a young girl undergoing the rigorous physical training and psychological conditioning that will ultimately make her into the Carlyle Lazarus. The second storyline brings us back to current-day Forever tracking down her traitorous brother whose double-dealings were revealed in the first volume. And the third introduces a new set of characters, the Barrets, a Waste family struggling to survive in the Carlyle domain hinterlands of what used to be Montana.

Like the first volume, this volume - Lift - proceeds at a measured pace - showing us in more detail what this world is like, how it works, and how the various characters fit into it. A lot does happen though in what is actually a comparatively short amount of time, and the stakes start out high and only get higher as each story line progresses.

The best part for me was the Barrets' storyline which gives us a Waste point of view for a good part of the book. We first see the Barrets - Bobbie and Joe, a mixed-race couple with two teenage kids, Michael and Leigh - at their farm holding in rural Montana, where rising flood-waters are threatening to wash away everything they have. It quickly becomes apparent that their existence is precarious even when they're not having to deal with natural disasters. The farm system resembles nothing so much as the way coal companies used to treat miners back in the 1800's and early 1900's when the company owned everything and miners were forced to live in company housing, buy from the company store at company rates, including paying for the very tools and equipment they used, and were held in place by debts to the company that they had no hope whatsoever of paying off. Replace 'company' with 'Family' and you have the picture.

If you're Waste in this world, your one hope is to be 'lifted' up into Family service, to become a Serf, to be the perhaps one in ten or one in a hundred of the population that the Family deems to have some skill or potential they can use. The problem is that most Serfs are born into that class. If you're Waste, your chances of being lifted are more like one in a thousand. The core of the Barrets' storyline is when they make the difficult decision to risk everything to trek across dangerous and bleak country to attend an announced Carlyle Family Lift being held in Denver, which is 500 miles away.

Highly, highly recommended.

DVD ~ Brendan Gleeson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and well-crafted film about faith, facing death and the choices we ultimately make, September 6, 2014
This review is from: Calvary (DVD)
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), Calvary is a small independent Irish film that deals with a current-day village priest who's facing a number of dilemmas in his life, foremost of which is a confession by one of his parishioners that he plans to kill him in one week.

The film begins with Father James (Brendan Gleeson) hearing confession. At first the confession seems routine enough, until the man confessing informs Father James that, because he was molested by a priest as a child, he intends to kill him even though James is not the one who molested him and he knows that Father James is actually a good priest, his logic being that the murder of a good priest will draw more attention than the murder of a bad one. The confessor tells James that he has one week to put his affairs in order, after which he will come and kill him.

The movie the unfolds in an episodic fashion, with each day of the seven he's been give being an episode where we learn about James and about the people in the village that is his parish. And the challenges facing him besides the death sentence he's now living under. For one thing, his daughter comes to visit after recently attempted suicide. Unlike most priests, James was married before entering the priesthood and in fact only became a priest after his wife died, and his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly) has deep-rooted resentment over this, feeling that he abandoned her when he became a priest. For another, his assistant priest, Father Leary (David Wilmot) is something of a vapid suck-up whose faith runs no deeper than the material of his cassock, leading a frustrated James at one point to ask him why he ever became a priest in the first place.

And then there are James's parishioners, most of whom generally regard him with less than positive feeling, some with condescension and contempt, others with cynicism and even anger. None of them seem to feel that James - or the church - is relevant to them. In truth the only ones who seem to want to see him are an aging and ailing writer (M. Emmett Walsh) who wants James to get him a gun so he can kill himself to avoid facing a long and debilitating end, and a young former parishioner named Freddie Joyce (Domhnall Gleeson) who's now on death row for murder and just wants someone to talk to.

As we watch James' interactions with these people, we see his inner struggles. How does one keep faith when the very people you're supposed to be keeping it for have no use for it? And is that faith worth facing death for, when the safe and sane course would be to simply leave, something that James is sorely tempted to do, particularly when it seems that no one in the parish has a use for him?

Highly recommended.

Lazarus Volume 1 TP
Lazarus Volume 1 TP
by Greg Rucka
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.80
77 used & new from $1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A grimly intriguing future dystopia of tech-based feudalism where all power is held by a tiny - and highly dysfunctional - elite, August 31, 2014
This review is from: Lazarus Volume 1 TP (Paperback)
There are a lot of dystopias these days, both in literature and in the comics, but the Lazarus series in my opinion has put forward one of the most interesting and well thought out, taking some current trends and extrapolating them into the future and then creating a social order based on the logical outcome. Set in a future that feels like it might be sixty to seventy years or so from now, the dystopia of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's creation is the apparent result of some economic and governmental collapse, complicated by an agriculturally-challenged environment where control of genetically-modified seed strains (think Monsanto) is one of the highest mechanisms of power.

Society (in what feels like a substantially reduced population) consists of three classes: Family, Serfs and Waste. Family is restricted to a tiny elite - the top 1% of 1% of 1% - a handful of individuals who wield absolute power over a domain, with different Families controlling different domains. Family Carlyle, the central one in the story line, has a domain that apparently extends from the West Coast to the Mississippi River. Family Morray's domain lies to the south, making up what used to be Mexico and Central America. Families Bittner and Hock's domains lie to the east. Besides wielding total control, Family also have the very best of everything, including access to advanced medical technology that allows them greatly increased life-spans, such that Family members who look to be in their 20's may actually be in their 60's.

Under Family you have Serfs - the maybe 1 in 10 (or more often, 1 in 100) individuals who have some skill or talent or potential that the Family finds useful or necessary. Unlike their medieval namesakes, Serfs in this dystopia are not just agricultural workers but pretty much everyone who serves Family, from domestic servants and soldiers all the way up to medical professionals and scientists. The higher up the service ladder you are, the better life you and your family have. For as long as Family deems you useful and loyal anyway.

Everyone else in society - the remaining 95 to 98% of the people in a domain - are considered Waste. Waste - if they're properly registered as legal residents of the domain - are provided a minimum level of subsistence and little else. The most Waste can aspire to - beyond not dying of starvation, disease, natural disaster or just outright being killed - is to be found useful enough at some point to be 'lifted' to Serf. The most Serf can aspire to, beyond moving up the Family service ladder, is not reverting back to Waste. And not being killed if they inadvertently cross some Family line. Nobody moves up to becoming Family. Family are born, not made. Or so it would seem.

To maintain their control over their territory, both internally and against external threats, every family has its own private armed force. At the pinnacle of that armed force, every Family has a Lazarus, a member of the Family with special highly advanced bio-tech enhancements and rigorous training that make them not only extremely deadly but also virtually impossible to kill. The chief functions of a Lazarus are to protect the Family against any and all threats, and to enforce the Family's rule. To this end, they are conditioned from early childhood both psychologically and biologically to exhibit unquestioning loyalty to Family.

Enter Forever Carlyle. Forever Carlyle is the Lazarus of Family Carlyle. She is the youngest of the five Carlyle siblings, and she is very, very good at her job. She is also increasingly conflicted about some of the things she is called on to do, which we see in the opening scene where she must investigate an attack by another Family on one of the Carlyle's precious seed storage facilities. Adding to her problems is the fact that Family Carlyle is riven internally by factions and plots among the siblings, all of whom seem to be aware of something that Forever has been kept ignorant of, a secret kept so intensely that her continued existence appears to depend on her never learning of it.

Some reviewers have commented about the slow pace, but Rucka and Lark know what they're doing here. The reason things are proceeding somewhat slowly is because they're engaged in some first-class world-building here, i.e. showing us in intimate episodic detail how things are in this near-future world, building up the reality that the story takes place in. This is important because the characters are very much a part of this world, and their natures are very much determined by who they are in this world, be they Family, Serf or Waste. Or a Lazarus, as Forever happens to be. The result is that you get a disturbing but highly believable world with characters that you can believe inhabit this world.

I particularly liked the scenes between Forever and the Morray Lazarus, a man named Joacquim. Though they are of rival Families, their interactions reveal a sympathetic bond, that only another Lazarus truly knows what it means to be a Lazarus. What it means to be "the sword's edge" of the Family will. What it means to time and again take damage that would kill an ordinary human being in seconds but they not only survive but keep on fighting. And how much it all hurts. Just because you can't be killed doesn't mean you can't feel pain. "Our Families don't understand," Joacquim says at one point when they're alone, to which Forever agrees "No. They don't." Which makes you wonder just how strong all that conditioning and programming will ultimately prove to be in the future.

Lazarus Volume One: Family consists of the first four issues of the comic, plus a four-page short story originally published in Previews as an introduction to the world of Lazarus. The principal art is done by Michael Lark, with Stefano Gaudiano & Brian Level providing additional art, and the colors are done by Santi Arcas. The results are a style that is perfect for giving the world of Lazarus a gritty, worn-down feel where life for most is a struggle, and for bringing out the characters in particular where agendas are frequently hidden and facial expressions speak volumes.

Highly recommended.

The Hundred-Foot Journey
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Price: $14.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes brakes break for a reason." - A delightfully romantic film about food, family and the strange paths life can take, August 30, 2014
Directed by Lasse Hallestrom (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Chocolat) from a screenplay by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) based on the book by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a marvelous film, intimate in its setting but universal in its themes, and surprisingly romantic on more than one level.

The story is centered around Hasan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young man from India who from early childhood has shown a natural instinct for food, a talent lovingly nurtured by his cook mother (Juhi Chawla) as he grows up working in the family restaurant in India. Tragedy comes early though as the family is attacked in a riot that follows an election, resulting in the restaurant being burned and his mother dying in the fire, which leads the family to leave the country. Papa Kadam (magnificently played by veteran Indian actor Om Puri) first takes the family to England, but after finding the weather too cold and the local food uninspiring, decides that they should try their luck in Europe instead. They journey around with the family and all of their possessions tucked into an old beat-up van, stopping here and there to sample the local produce, looking for the right place to start over again.

Fate steps in when they reach the French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val where the van's brakes suddenly fail, resulting in an accident that leaves the family temporarily stranded. Fortunately a kind young Frenchwoman named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) notices their distress and takes them to her house where she gives them their first taste of local food. And then temporarily suddenly changes as Papa begins to look around, checking out the local produce market and coming across an abandoned restaurant that is for sale. Which leads him to announce to the startled family that they're staying, that this is the place they've been looking for. When Hassan asks his father, who apparently regularly consults his dead wife, what his mother thinks, Papa says in complete seriousness that she told him "Sometimes brakes break for a reason." And so they end up staying.

At first Papa's judgment seems highly questionable, first and foremost because the restaurant he's decided to buy is just across the road - a hundred feet to be exact - from a well-established and highly regarded one-star French haute cuisine restaurant run by the imperious Madame Mallory (equally magnificently played by veteran British actress Helen Mirren), who does not take the arrival of these upstart foreigners kindly. And in no time at all it's war between Papa and Madame Mallory, both resorting to all kinds of tricks and appeals to the much-beleaguered local mayor (Michel Blanc) to make life difficult for the other.

Complicating the situation further is the fact that Marguerite, whom Hassan is finding himself liking a great deal, works for Madame Mallory. And the fact that Hassan wants to learn to cook in the French style, setting up a kind of Romeo & Juliet situation. Except that in this case Hassan and Marguerite are also rivals, each wanting to move up as chefs but realizing that the other is their main competition.

Saying anything else would amount to being a spoiler. Suffice it to say that things develop in unexpected ways, not only between Hassan and Marguerite but also between Hassan and Madame Mallory. And between Madame Mallory and Papa. The film truly engages you as you watch things unfold, helped along by a marvelous cast in the hands of a gifted director telling a very intimate and yet universal themed story. Helping things along are the lush cinematography by Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Promised Land) and a lovely mood-setting score by A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, Million-Dollar Arm, 127 Hours) that flows easily back and forth between the traditional and modern as well as the European and Indian elements of the story.

Special acknowledgement should be given to Mirren and Puri's performances. Even though all of the actors involved give fine performances, Mirren and Puri absolutely dominate every scene they're in, and the scenes with the two of them together are priceless, particularly a scene where the two adversaries end up bargaining with each other across a table over Hassan's future. And I loved the scene where on the new Indian restaurant's opening night, Papa Kadam shows his family that just because they're in a different country with a different culture, it doesn't mean that his traditional old-fashioned ways of enticing customers into a restaurant won't work just as well in France as they did in India. And the scene where Mirren's Madame Mallory reacts to Hassan's attempt at preparing one of her restaurant's signature dishes stands out as well, showing in her facial expressions and body language the powerful emotional turmoil that the experience causes her.

Highly, highly recommended.

Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery TP
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery TP
by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.31
56 used & new from $5.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You put an arrow in my favorite boob!" Rowdy, ribald and more than a little tongue-in-cheek fun light fantasy, August 28, 2014
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe (Peter Panzerfaust, Green Wake) with art by Roc Upchurch, Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery is something I picked up on a whim, liking both the cover art and the idea of an all-girl fantasy adventuring group. As it turns out, it was money well spent.

The town of Palisade has a problem: too many adventuring groups hanging around and generally getting into - and making - trouble. And the most notorious group of all is the Rat Queens, an all-female troupe of adventurers consisting of:

Hannah - an elven mage who casts attitude even more than she casts spells

Dee - a human cleric with god-issues (her family worships a giant flying squid)

Violet - a kick-ass dwarven fighter who just can't seem to get her battle-cries right, much to her chagrin

Betty - a cute smidgen (read 'halfling') thief who likes gold, getting wasted... and girls

Wiebe makes things interesting in his writing in a number of ways, by respecting the traditions and conventions of RP-based fantasy literature and culture on the one hand while playing with and satirizing them on the other, and at the same time working in odd but fun little references to other genres, like when the group is attacked by an assassin who causes tentacles to spring up at them from the ground:

Dee: "Tentacles. Of course."
Hannah: "What's with men and tentacles? Sick of this s**t."

While Rat Queens does not take itself overly seriously, Wiebe and Upchurch do put a lot of effort and detail into a number of key scenes, making them much more than just filler or throwaways. I particularly like how they used Betty in the fight scenes and in one scene where they're casing a place for a burglary, giving her character some genuine credibility as a thief by showing just exactly what she was observing and how it led her to interpret things.

Betty and Violet are far and away my two favorites among the Rat Queens for having the most depth and originality. Besides the scenes I already mentioned, Betty also has a couple of rather sweet and touching scenes with a punkish elf girl named Faeyri who likes her but doesn't necessarily want the drama her friends bring with them. Violet has some complexity as well, particularly when she's trying to come up with epic-sounding commentary... and failing miserably:

Violet: "We can sit around and bitch or we can make some monsters bleed. And my sword is hungry for blood."
Betty (raising a dubious eyebrow): "Really?"
Violet: "I've been sitting on that one for a week. It's terrible, isn't it?"
Betty: "The worst."

The other thing I really like about Violet is the way Upchurch draws her. Of all the Rat Queens, she's the one who actually looks like a real woman, with proper hips and thighs and some believable body proportioning. Of all the characters, Violet is the one who might actually resemble someone you know. Or would like to know, as she has the best facial expressions. Not to mention freckles to die for.

Also worth mentioning is my other favorite character, a one-eyed female orc fighter named Braga who's a member of a rival group, the Peaches. The scene were she and a rather startled Betty lead the charge in a fight is funny and kind of awesome at the same time. Also, she had the line I quoted in the title of this review.

Recommended to anyone looking for an original and colorful fun take on the light fantasy genre.

Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookie,8 Ounce
Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookie,8 Ounce

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly disappointing, August 19, 2014
I decided to try these because I liked Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Almond Cookies, but I have to say I found Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookies more than a little disappointing. It's hard to believe that they're made by the same people. The cookies are dry as dust and almost tasteless, and what taste there is comes as more of an aftertaste, one distinctly _not_ reminiscent of ginger. About the only positive thing I can say about them is that they did not raise my blood sugar (I'm diabetic). I still like the Oats & Almond cookies, but I will not be re-ordering these. Not recommended.

Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Zach Braff
Price: $24.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes a crisis brings clarity, and ultimately wisdom and joy, August 16, 2014
Some films defy easy categorization. Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff from a screenplay by Zach Braff and brother Adam J. Braff, is one of those films. On the surface it's a comedy, but under the surface it deals with a lot of serious issues that almost everyone has to deal with in their lives: family, identity, careers, fears, dreams and dealing with the choices we - and those we love - make in life.

Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is an aspiring actor, at 35 years old still struggling to get established. He's married with two kids, but despite his lack of success life isn't that bad as his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports the family with her job and his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is paying for the kids' schooling at a private orthodox Jewish school. Or it wasn't that bad until Gabe's cancer suddenly takes a turn for the terminal worse and he can no longer pay for the kids' tuition, forcing Aidan to suddenly have to deal with, well, his entire life and who he is, as a son, as a husband, as a father, and as a person.

We quickly begin to see that Aidan, however genial and well-meaning he is on the surface, has been less than stellar in any of those aspects of his life. The woefully neglected back yard and pool we see behind his house serves as a visual metaphor for his life. When Gabe chides Aidan for letting Sarah support the family while he pursues his fruitless acting career, Aidan defensively protests that Sarah is "living her dream" in her job. Whereupon the film cuts to Sarah, working as a harried number cruncher for the LA Water Department where she has to share an office with a boorish and grossly sexually inappropriate co-worker, a job she cannot quit because she is the sole bread-winner in the family.

Aidan's first response is to try to apply for charity to the school's director, a no-nonsense Rabbi Twersky (Allan Rich) who isn't about to put up with Aidan's childish attempt to avoid responsibility and bluntly shuts him down:

Rabbi Twersky: "Get a job."
Aidan: "But what about my dream? I mean, doesn't God believe in my pursuit of happiness?"
Rabbi Twersky: "No. That's the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson believed in your happiness. God wants you to provide for your family."

Aidan's willful obliviousness is further nailed later when even Sarah pushes him to get some kind of job to pay for the kids' tuition and he weakly protests "What about following my dream?" To which a thoroughly weary Sarah asks "When did this relationship become solely about supporting _your_ dream?"

What works best in Wish I Was Here is that there are no magical Hollywood solutions to any of the family's problems. Aidan's attempts to deal with the various situations facing him are, in the beginning at least, as inept as they are rooted in self-centered denial. But he does try, and in the end sometimes it's the attempt that matters. Sometimes, in spite of ourselves, we stumble towards a kind of wisdom that, even if it doesn't completely solve our problems, makes them bearable, and we can discover possibilities that we didn't know were there.

Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 17, 2014 9:23 PM PDT

The Lunchbox Hindi DVD (Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur) (Bollywood/Film/2014 Movie)
The Lunchbox Hindi DVD (Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur) (Bollywood/Film/2014 Movie)
DVD ~ Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui | Irrfan Khan
Offered by saanjhi
Price: $16.95
9 used & new from $7.96

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes the wrong train will take you to the right destination.", July 27, 2014
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox (Hindi title "Dabba") is a wonderfully intimate film about two lonely people whose disparate lives are accidentally connected by the mis-delivery of a lunchbox. In the hands of a lesser director, it would've probably been merely a light romantic comedy. But in Batra's very talented hands, The Lunchbox is much, much more than that, bringing us deeply into the characters' lives and showing how sometimes it's the smallest things that can make the biggest difference.

Saajan Fernandes (marvelously played by Irrfan Khan) is a lonely accountant working in the claims department of a company in Mumbai. Middle-aged and approaching retirement, he exists more than he lives, having lost any feeling for anyone or anything since the death of his wife some years earlier. Ila (Nimrat Kaur in an equally marvelous performance) is a lonely young wife/mother who lives with her young daughter and emotionally distant husband in an apartment in Mumbai. Her only real human contact comes from her upstairs neighbor, an older woman, "Auntie" Deshpande (Bharati Achrekar), whom we never actually see but who carries on conversations with her through their open windows, chatting about their daily lives and giving advice about cooking. Wanting desperately to revive some sense of connection with her cold and indifferent husband, Ila tries to prepare special lunches for him, hoping as the old saying goes, to find a way to his heart through his stomach.

A chance of fate intervenes when Ila's specially prepared lunch mistakenly ends up being delivered to Saajan's office instead of her husband's. Although Saajan notices that something seems different about his lunch, he gives the matter little thought. He does, however, eat all of it, finding it quite delicious, and so when the lunchbox is returned to Ila that afternoon, she is surprised and delighted to find it completely empty, thinking that her husband must have enjoyed it for once. But when he comes home, he is just as cold and indifferent as ever, and only when she asks about it does he say anything, mentioning that the cauliflower was okay. Which tells her that something is amiss since the lunch she prepared didn't have any cauliflower. The next day, she prepares another lunch, this time sending it off with a note inside, telling whoever the lunch gets delivered to that he must've gotten the lunch she had prepared for her husband by mistake, but that she appreciated the fact that he had clearly enjoyed it, judging by the empty returns, and that it made her feel appreciated, if only for a little while. Reading the note, Saajan is hesitant at first, but afterwards sends back a note that that day's lunch was a bit salty. Which prompts Ila to fix something spicy for the next lunch - with a new note. Which prompts Saajan to send back a note about his having to eat a banana to dampen the heat in his mouth from the spice, mentioning off-handedly that he sees that so many people have nothing but a banana for their lunch. Gradually a correspondence between them builds as they share their observations, their thoughts and eventually their feelings, he about missing the life he had with his wife, she about the life she doesn't have with her husband.

There are a number of side-plots occurring in the film, foremost of which are Saajan's having to train an overly eager new-hire Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as his replacement, Ila's having to deal with her father having terminal cancer and her mother's having to take care of him, and Auntie Deshpande's husband who's been in a coma for years. The real importance of these sub-plots is that through them we see how Saajan and Ila are both starting to see the world around them with new eyes, both of them coming alive again, their perspectives changing as a direct result of their chance correspondence. It is to writer/director Batra's immense credit that he imbues his film with a great deal of subtlety, little things like the sound of a particular song, the visual of a ceiling fan, the news of a random tragedy, each seen and reacted to by Saajan and Ila in their separate lives but making the point that they're both in the same world.

Another small but delightful detail is how Batra portrays Auntie Deshpande's character. You never actually see Ila's chatty upstairs neighbor though you hear her voice, hear her changing the music and looking through drawers for things. But you do see this basket she lowers to share cooking ingredients with Ila, and through the way Batra has the basket bob and weave, he gives the audience a visual feel for Auntie Deshpande's personality. I've never seen a dangling basket that manages to coax, tease, and nudge the way this one did in the film. An extraordinarily nice touch.

Important note: if you're not from India or familiar with the dabbawala system of lunchbox deliveries, I strongly suggest either googling it or looking it up on Wikipedia (from which I derived much of the following description) as it is important to fully understanding the film. It is also something of a fascinating subject in its own right. Started in Mumbai back in 1890, the dabbawala system is a complex, highly organized and remarkably reliable delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes (or "dabbas") from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and the railway trains, and returns the empty boxes back to the customer's residence that afternoon. They are also made use of by prominent meal suppliers in Mumbai where they ferry ready, cooked meals from central kitchens to the customers and back. The workers who handle the deliveries are "dabbawalas". What is also important to understand is that the chances of a lunchbox being delivered to the wrong place are on the order of once in every eight _million_ deliveries. Which is what makes the key event in "The Lunchbox" such a remarkable oddity.

In truth I only have two criticisms about the film. The first is strictly a technical one. Being an English speaker, I'm dependent on the sub-titles in films to follow what's going on, and I found that the choice of sub-title format in The Lunchbox often made them difficult to read, being very light text against what was frequently a light background. The other was what I felt was a loss of focus and pacing in the latter part of the film which made it a bit harder to follow what was going on and also felt less intimate than what came before it.

But that aside, The Lunchbox is truly something worth seeing, engaging you in a way that too few films ever do and prompting us to think about our own lives and about what really matters to us.

Highly recommended.

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